England & Wales Communities and society

All in a day’s work…Councillor Margaret Lishman, Burnley Borough Council


Over the rest of the summer we are running a short series of posts from councillors around the country about different aspects of the role. Some will be talking about the daily details of what being an elected member entails for them; others have written about a specific cause or issue that being on the council has allowed them to champion. All the contributions add up to a snapshot of the busy and varied job of councillor. A big thank you to all those who have taken time to contribute. If you are a councillor and would like to write a short post for this series then please contact [email protected].

Councillor Margaret Lishman

Councillor Margaret Lishman is a Liberal Democrat councillor in Burnley,  first elected in 1991. She is the council’s Dementia Friendly champion and has helped lead the local campaign to raise awareness of the illness and its impact on those affected and on those around them. In this post she explains how the council went about achieving its ‘Dementia Friendly Town’ status and the work that went in to that.

Imagine you’ve travelled to London by train.

Imagine you’ve just arrived in one of the biggest cities in the world, surrounded by crowds and traffic and noise, but you’ve no idea how you got there, where you are, or why you’re there. Imagine you can’t even remember who you are.

Now try and imagine the overwhelming sense of fear and confusion that would paralyse you with panic.

This is just one real-life example of what can happen to a person with dementia.

Dementia isn’t simple “forgetfulness”. The word ‘dementia’ describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. These changes are often small to start with, but for someone with dementia they have become severe enough to affect daily life. A person with dementia may also experience changes in their mood or behaviour. In severe cases you lose the ability to even eat or drink. It was recently reported that dementia is adversely affecting what were rising life expectancy figures. As people can expect to live longer, the impact of dementia will also increase.

Cllr Lishman with other partners raising awareness of dementia

Two years ago in Burnley we set in motion a series of events that led to us being designated a “Dementia Friendly town”. I’m proud to say we’ve achieved an awful lot in a short time, thanks to the support of a wide range of people and partners.

A Dementia Action Alliance, which focused on increasing awareness of dementia and improving access to services for people affected, was established, bringing together the council, the Alzheimer’s Society, businesses and community groups.

I’d heard about the Dementia Action Alliance from a friend at court ( I’m a JP) so when I knew that Burnley was starting one I was eager to get involved. My mother has stroke-induced dementia in her later years so trying to improve things for people suffering with dementia and their carers is close to my heart following that experience.

We began with a big gathering of local businesses and other organisations to see what was going on already and what we thought we could achieve. We particularly targeted Burnley Football Club to get them to start a dementia cafe following the example of other clubs and also get the staff trained as dementia friends. Burnley FC has been great and has now undertaken further initiatives on match days with the Altzeimers Society.

People and organisations from across the whole spectrum of community life have supported the initiative – banks, supermarkets, churches, law firms, GPs and taxi drivers to name but a few! All have pledged to become more “dementia friendly” and I’m sure more will follow.

My role mostly seems to be raising awareness, talking about the issues and trying to persuade people to help, to look at their buildings and services to make them more dementia friendly. We’ve had Dementia Friend sessions for councillors and council staff, all of which have been well received.

September will see our first Memory Walk jointly with Pendle DAA and late October we will hold a conference for local businesses and organisations to see what’s been achieved and what to do next. It’s a joint effort and it’s worth it.

One in 14 people over 65 have dementia at any one time. If you add in family and friends, the number of people affected totals around five thousand in the borough. It’s vital that we make the town a place where people can live well with dementia.

Dementia has become a national issue that’s often in the news. I think part of that is down to the fact that almost everyone knows someone who is affected by dementia, either through having to cope with the illness themselves or through having to support a family member or friend.

We all have a part to play. I’d encourage you all to become a “Dementia Friend”. Arm yourself with a basic understanding of what dementia is, what the signs are, how to help support someone with the illness, and how dementia affects their everyday lives.

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